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M.I.A. a play about Rochester Native Joe Christiano

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On January 3rd, 4th, and 5th the Multi-use Community Cultural Center (MuCCC) will present the play M.I.A. the story of Lt. Col. Joseph Christiano, a Rochester native who was missing in action for 46 years.

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The play is written and performed by Spencer Christiano, Joe Christiano’s great-nephew. Performances will be at 7:30 PM on Friday January 3rd and Saturday January 4th, as well as 2:00 PM on Saturday January 4th and Sunday January 5th.

The MuCCC theatre is located at 142 Atlantic Avenue in Rochester. Tickets cost $12 in advance and $15 at the door. Proceeds benefit Chapter 20 of the Vietnam Veterans of America. Information and tickets are available on the MuCC website www.MuCCC.org.

Major Joseph Christiano was the navigator of an AC-47D gunship, call sign Spooky 21, that was shot down during a combat mission just south of Ban Bac in Saravane Province in southern Laos.

During the war in Vietnam, an Air Force navigator’s job was to get the aircraft and crew to where they were supposed to be on time and on target. Then, at the end of each mission, the navigator’s job was to get the aircraft and crew home again.

It was a hot dirty and dangerous too, especially for the AC-47D gunship crews, who had to fly low and slow to do their job right, which made them an easy target for the North Vietnamese gunners along the ho Chi Minh Trail.

Spooky 21 took off from Da Nang Air Base, South Vietnam at 7:28 a.m. (0728 hours) on December 24, 1965, on an armed reconnaissance/ mission over the Ho Chi Minh Trail.in the panhandle of Laos. But Spooky 21 never returned to base (RTB) on that Christmas Eve.

The Ho Chi Minh was the supply route that the North Vietnamese uses to smuggle arms and supplies to the Vietcong guerrillas in South Vietnam.

For 46 years nobody knew what had happened to the plane and the six-man crew: Lt. Colonel Derrell B. Jeffords, pilot; Captain Dennis L. Eilers, co-pilot; Major Joseph Christiano, navigator; Technical Sergeant W. Kevin Colwell, flight engineer; Master Sergeant Larry C. Thornton, aerial gunner; and Staff Sergeant. Arden "A. K." Hassenger, aerial gunner.

A search team from the Joint Task Force for Full Accounting (JTFFA) finally located the crash site in 1995 after a villager recalled seeing a two-propeller aircraft crash nearby during the war. Another villager, who had found the wreckage in the jungle, took the search team to the crash site.

Follow-up teams revisited the site four times between 1999 and 2001 but excavations found no human remains. Excavations resumed in 2010 and 2011, and the search teams found human remains and personal items from the crew.

On July 9, 2012 Joseph Christiano and the other five members of the crew were buried in a single grave in Arlington National Cemetery.

According to the MuCCC website the play is, “Told by his great-nephew and culled from interviews with the family, M.I.A. is the story of a man that sacrificed everything for his country, and a family that, together, overcame an unimaginable loss. Blended with tales of Joe’s life before Vietnam and during wartime, the one-man play also recounts first hand experiences of the Christiano family as they made their 2012 pilgrimage from Rochester to Washington to reclaim their beloved and finally lay him to rest.”

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